Being in the depth of winter time at the Kenosha Yacht Club seems, to me anyway, time for some nautical trivia to dwell on. So how about we look into some seagoing trivia? Follow me as we delve into some “stuff” you make not remember or find some new conversation pieces.
In their cars, sailors gauge their speed by miles per hour. But underway, speed is measured in knots. Why is that?
Knots is a seaman’s term for “nautical miles per hour,” according to the basic Navy handbook, The Bluejacket’s Manual.
One knot is equal to a nautical mile, or 6,070 feet. A land mile is only 5,280 feet.
“Do not show yourself to be a landlubber” and say “knots per hour” while at sea, the manual warns. It’s a misnomer, because what you actually be saying is “nautical miles per hour.” if a ship is moving at 10 “knots per hour,” just say the ship is moving at 10 knots.
The term “knot” dates back at least to the 1500's, according to PhysLink.com, a website dedicated to physics and astronomy education. In those days, a sailor would throw a wood log in the water that was tied to a rope and observe how quickly it moved away from the ship. The sailor would count rope knots – tied exactly the same length apart – that would go overboard over a given time interval. This evolved into today’s practice of measuring nautical miles. Today, knots can also be used to measure air speed.
So you knew about knots per (nautical) miles per hour! Ok, then. How about the next one?
Someone who is loyal and committed could be described as faithful “to the bitter end.” But why?
The saying has its roots in the Navy, according to the terms and trivia website for Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va.
Wooden or iron posts sticking out of a ship’s deck are called “bitts.” And when a rope is wrapped around one, it’s called a “bitter.” When the last of the rope is secured to the bitt, it’s called “the bitter end,” the site says.
The Navy has expanded the definition of the phrase over time. Now, the phrase can mean the end of any rope, regardless of whether it is secured to a bitt, according to Naval History and Heritage Command.
The term widely used in the civilian world today means to adhere to a course of action regardless of consequences. For example, “sticking it out to the bitter end.”
Ready for one more piece of nautical nomenclature? Try this one on for size.
Did you ever wonder why Naval Academy students are called “midshipmen,” when students at other military academies are “cadets”?
“Midshipmen” originally referred to the youngsters aboard British navy vessels who were in training to become officers, according to the U.S. Navy publication Origin of Navy Terminology. Their primary duties included carrying orders from the officers, quartered in the stern, to the crew, quartered in the fo’c’sle.
The repeated scampering through the middle part of the ship earned them the name “midshipmen” or “middie.”
Naval Academy and Navy ROTC students are still called “midshipmen” because just like their historical counterparts, they are in training to become officers in the sea services.
Of course, back in the days of sail, mids cold begin their naval careers at the age of 8.
Then there are the officers who got their commissions by coming up through the ranks. They, like me, are known as “Mustangs.”
Ed. C. Werner